Monday, January 08, 2007

A tale of two Chavez


Many column inches here, and elsewhere, devoted to the music education and freedom of press policies of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavéz. Wouldn't some of them be better spent reappraising the music of his namesake, Mexican composer Carlos Chavéz?

Carlos Chavéz (photo above) was born in 1899, and lived to 1978. During the mid-20th century he was a major influence on the Mexican musical scene, and his important achievements include the formation of the orchestra that is now the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional. His early works coincided with the period of post-revolutionary government in Mexico when Indian music and indigenous culture became a prized national asset. The Sinfonia India is the second of Chavéz's seven symphonies. The single movement work was completed in 1936, and incorporates authentic Indian melodies from the state of Sonora. The scoring is Indian exotic, including maraca, Yaqui metal rattle, water gourd, tenabri (butterfly cocoons), teponaztles (a member of the xylophone family), a rattling string of deer hooves, tlapanhuehuetl (bass drum) and rasping stick, as well as full orchestra.

I must declare an interest in this symphony. During the 1980s I spent some time in Mexico helping develop the classical music market in that wonderful country. For that project EMI recorded Chavéz's Sinfonia India as part of a two LP project Music of Mexico featuring 20th century works by local composers. The conductor was Enrique Batiz (left), with the Orquesta Sinfónia del Estado de México. The sessions were produced by Brian Culverhouse in the Sala Nezahuacoyotl in Mexico City. The vinyl LP of Sinfonia India plays as I write, and still sounds quite magnificent with all those wonderful percussion colours. If we want to celebrate the musical achievements of Latin America let's pay some more attention to Carlos Chavez and the other Mexican composers featured on those long deleted records.

* Music of Mexico Volume 1 was released in 1981:
Silvestre Revueltas (1899-1940): Sensemayá
José Pablo Moncayo: (1912-1958) Huapango
Revueltas: Homage to Federico Garcia Lorca
Chavéz: Sinfonia India
This release had a gatefold sleeve, and it was used to full advantage to display an allegorical mural by the Mexican revolutionary artist Diego Rivera depicting the independence of Mexico. Those were the days when sleeve art was art! View the mural via this link.

Volume 2 was released in 1984:
Revueltas: Redes
Revueltas: Ocho por Radio
Blas Galindo (1910-1993): Suite, Homenaje a Cervantes
Rodolfo Halffter (1900-1987): Tripartia

EMI departed from their usual practice of shipping the recording equipment and house production team out to Mexico City from England. Instead freelance Brian Culverhouse acted both as producer and balance engineer, and the digital recording equipment was supplied by Soundstream, Inc from the US. Now read about a composer from Cuba - Odaline de la Martinez

* For more on Carlos Chavéz read Gustavo Dudamel's rattling deer hooves.

Image credit, from an excellent online biography of Carlos Chavéz Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

5 comments:

JW said...

Nice post on Chavez, and you're right about that symphony. I want to call your attention to a fantastic series of recordings of Chavez' complete chamber music, released on the Cambria label. They have been nominated for and have won Grammys. The music features that same Mexican authenticity you mentioned regarding the symphony. Great stuff!

Pliable said...

Thanks very much JW, recommendations like that are really valuable.

Do any readers have recommendations for CD versions of Sinfonia India (or any of the other works mentioned in my post) to counterbalance my vinyl bias?

Drew80 said...

Eduardo Mata recorded an excellent version of the "Sinfonia India" with the London Symphony Orchestra in the very early 1980's for the Vox label. That performance was initially released in a two-disc set containing all of the Chavez symphonies. That same performance of "Sinfonia India" was later included in a three-disc set Vox issued in 1995 to celebrate the company's 50th anniversary. The latter set remains in print, I believe, although the original two-disc set of the complete Chavez symphonies is no longer available.

Batiz recorded the "Sinfonia India" a second time, in the late 1980's, for the ASV label. That disc includes Ponce's wonderful Violin Concerto, written for and performed by Henryk Szeryng. I believe that the ASV disc is still in print.

Mata also recorded the "Sinfonia India" a second time, with a Venezuelan orchestra in the very early 1990's for the Dorian label. I believe that the original recording has been withdrawn, and that the performance is now available only in a multi-disc compilation of music from Latin America.

The Mata Vox "Sinfonia India" is superior to his later Dorian recording and to the Batiz ASV "Sinfonia India", both in terms of performance quality and recording quality.

That is a lovely symphony! I am surprised that it is hardly ever programmed. I have never heard it in the concert hall.

Birru said...

Hi Piable,
you have some misspellings,
Nezahuacoyotl instead of Nezahualcoyotu
teponaztles instead of teponaxtles,
Orquesta Sinfónica intead of Sinfónia

Also Carlos Chávez was the first director of the Orquesta Sinfónica de México, later Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de México,later Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional.

Another neglected composers from México are Armando Luna and Jorge Ritter, the latter has developed a style he calls abstract folklore.

Pliable said...

Thank you for that Birru and I have now incorporated your corrections into the article.